Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Part 3 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.6 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

For one moment longer--oh! it was the merest flash--Marguerite paused:
the next she had, with admirably played unconcern, resumed her walk
across the room--but this time more quickly towards that doorway whence
Sir Andrew had now disappeared.

All this, from the moment that Marguerite had caught sight of
Sir Andrew leaning against the doorway, until she followed him into
the little boudoir beyond, had occurred in less than a minute. Fate
is usually swift when she deals a blow.

Now Lady Blakeney had suddenly ceased to exist. It was
Marguerite St. Just who was there only: Marguerite St. Just who had
passed her childhood, her early youth, in the protecting arms of her
brother Armand. She had forgotten everything else--her rank, her
dignity, her secret enthusiasms--everything save that Armand stood in
peril of his life, and that there, not twenty feet away from her, in
the small boudoir which was quite deserted, in the very hands of Sir
Andrew Ffoulkes, might be the talisman which would save her brother's
life.

Barely another thirty seconds had elapsed between the moment
when Lord Hastings slipped the mysterious "something" into Sir
Andrew's hand, and the one when she, in her turn, reached the deserted
boudoir. Sir Andrew was standing with his back to her and close to a
table upon which stood a massive silver candelabra. A slip of paper
was in his hand, and he was in the very act of perusing its contents.

Unperceived, her soft clinging robe making not the slightest
sound upon the heavy carpet, not daring to breathe until she had
accomplished her purpose, Marguerite slipped close behind him. . . .
At that moment he looked round and saw her; she uttered a groan,
passed her hand across her forehead, and murmured faintly:

"The heat in the room was terrible. . .I felt so faint. . .
Ah!. . ."

She tottered almost as if she would fall, and Sir Andrew,
quickly recovering himself, and crumpling in his hand the tiny note he
had been reading, was only apparently, just in time to support her.

"You are ill, Lady Blakeney?" he asked with much concern, "Let
me. . ."

"No, no, nothing--" she interrupted quickly. "A
chair--quick."

She sank into a chair close to the table, and throwing back
her head, closing her eyes.

"There!" she murmured, still faintly; "the giddiness is
passing off. . . . Do not heed me, Sir Andrew; I assure you I already
feel better."

At moments like these there is no doubt--and psychologists
actually assert it--that there is in us a sense which has absolutely
nothing to do with the other five: it is not that we see, it is not
that we hear or touch, yet we seem to do all three at once.
Marguerite sat there with her eyes apparently closed. Sir Andrew was
immediately behind her, and on her right was the table with the
five-armed candelabra upon it. Before her mental vision there was
absolutely nothing but Armand's face. Armand, whose life was in the
most imminent danger, and who seemed to be looking at her from a
background upon which were dimly painted the seething crowd of Paris,
the bare walls of the Tribunal of Public Safety, with
Foucquier-Tinville, the Public Prosecutor, demanding Armand's life in
the name of the people of France, and the lurid guillotine with its
stained knife waiting for another victim. . .Armand!. . .

For one moment there was dead silence in the little boudoir.
Beyond, from the brilliant ball-room, the sweet notes of the gavotte,
the frou-frou of rich dresses, the talk and laughter of a large and
merry crowd, came as a strange, weird accompaniment to the drama which
was being enacted here.
Sir Andrew had not uttered another word. Then it was that
that extra sense became potent in Marguerite Blakeney. She could not
see, for her two eyes were closed, she could not hear, for the noise
from the ball-room drowned the soft rustle of that momentous scrap of
paper; nevertheless she knew-as if she had both seen and heard--that
Sir Andrew was even now holding the paper to the flame of one of the
candles.

At the exact moment that it began to catch fire, she opened
her eyes, raised her hand and, with two dainty fingers, had taken the
burning scrap of paper from the young man's hand. Then she blew out
the flame, and held the paper to her nostril with perfect unconcern.

"How thoughtful of you, Sir Andrew," she said gaily, "surely
'twas your grandmother who taught you that the smell of burnt paper
was a sovereign remedy against giddiness."

She sighed with satisfaction, holding the paper tightly
between her jewelled fingers; that talisman which perhaps would save
her brother Armand's life. Sir Andrew was staring at her, too dazed
for the moment to realize what had actually happened; he had been
taken so completely by surprise, that he seemed quite unable to grasp
the fact that the slip of paper, which she held in her dainty hand,
was one perhaps on which the life of his comrade might depend.

Marguerite burst into a long, merry peal of laughter.

"Why do you stare at me like that?" she said playfully. "I
assure you I feel much better; your remedy has proved most effectual.
This room is most delightedly cool," she added, with the same perfect
composure, "and the sound of the gavotte from the ball-room is
fascinating and soothing."

She was prattling on in the most unconcerned and pleasant way,
whilst Sir Andrew, in an agony of mind, was racking his brains as to
the quickest method he could employ to get that bit of paper out of
that beautiful woman's hand. Instinctively, vague and tumultuous
thoughts rushed through his mind: he suddenly remembered her
nationality, and worst of all, recollected that horrible take anent
the Marquis de St. Cyr, which in England no one had credited, for the
sake of Sir Percy, as well as for her own.

"What? Still dreaming and staring?" she said, with a merry
laugh, "you are most ungallant, Sir Andrew; and now I come to think of
it, you seemed more startled than pleased when you saw me just now. I
do believe, after all, that it was not concern for my health, nor yet
a remedy taught you by your grandmother that caused you to burn this
tiny scrap of paper. . . . I vow it must have been your lady love's
last cruel epistle you were trying to destroy. Now confess!" she
added, playfully holding up the scrap of paper, "does this contain her
final CONGE, or a last appeal to kiss and make friends?"

"Whichever it is, Lady Blakeney," said Sir Andrew, who was
gradually recovering his self-possession, "this little note is
undoubtedly mine, and. . ."
Not caring whether his action was one that would be styled
ill-bred towards a lady, the young man had made a bold dash for the
note; but Marguerite's thoughts flew quicker than his own; her actions
under pressure of this intense excitement, were swifter and more sure.
She was tall and strong; she took a quick step backwards and knocked
over the small Sheraton table which was already top-heavy, and which
fell down with a crash, together with the massive candelabra upon it.

She gave a quick cry of alarm:

"The candles, Sir Andrew--quick!"

There was not much damage done; one or two of the candles had
blown out as the candelabra fell; others had merely sent some grease
upon the valuable carpet; one had ignited the paper shade aver it.
Sir Andrew quickly and dexterously put out the flames and replaced the
candelabra upon the table; but this had taken him a few seconds to do,
and those seconds had been all that Marguerite needed to cast a quick
glance at the paper, and to note its contents--a dozen words in the
same distorted handwriting she had seen before, and bearing the same
device--a star-shaped flower drawn in red ink.

When Sir Andrew once more looked at her, he only saw upon her
face alarm at the untoward accident and relief at its happy issue;
whilst the tiny and momentous note had apparently fluttered to the
ground. Eagerly the young man picked it up, and his face looked much
relieved, as his fingers closed tightly over it.

"For shame, Sir Andrew," she said, shaking her head with a
playful sigh, "making havoc in the heart of some impressionable
duchess, whilst conquering the affections of my sweet little Suzanne.
Well, well! I do believe it was Cupid himself who stood by you, and
threatened the entire Foreign Office with destruction by fire, just on
purpose to make me drop love's message, before it had been polluted by
my indiscreet eyes. To think that, a moment longer, and I might have
known the secrets of an erring duchess."

"You will forgive me, Lady Blakeney," said Sir Andrew, now as
calm as she was herself, "if I resume the interesting occupation which
you have interrupted?"

"By all means, Sir Andrew! How should I venture to thwart the
love-god again? Perhaps he would mete out some terrible chastisement
against my presumption. Burn your love-token, by all means!"

Sir Andrew had already twisted the paper into a long spill,
and was once again holding it to the flame of the candle, which had
remained alight. He did not notice the strange smile on the face of
his fair VIS-A-VIS, so intent was he on the work of destruction;
perhaps, had he done so, the look of relief would have faded from his
face. He watched the fateful note, as it curled under the flame.
Soon the last fragment fell on the floor, and he placed his heel upon
the ashes.

"And now, Sir Andrew," said Marguerite Blakeney, with the
pretty nonchalance peculiar to herself, and with the most winning of
smiles, "will you venture to excite the jealousy of your fair lady by
asking me to dance the minuet?"

CHAPTER XIII EITHER--OR?

The few words which Marguerite Blakeney had managed to read on
the half-scorched piece of paper, seemed literally to be the words of
Fate. "Start myself tomorrow. . . ." This she had read quite
distinctly; then came a blur caused by the smoke of the candle, which
obliterated the next few words; but, right at the bottom, there was
another sentence, like letters of fire, before her mental vision, "If
you wish to speak to me again I shall be in the supper-room at one
o'clock precisely." The whole was signed with the hastily-scrawled
little device--a tiny star-shaped flower, which had become so familiar
to her.

One o'clock precisely! It was now close upon eleven, the last
minuet was being danced, with Sir Andrew Ffoulkes and beautiful Lady
Blakeney leading the couples, through its delicate and intricate
figures.

Close upon eleven! the hands of the handsome Louis XV. clock
upon its ormolu bracket seemed to move along with maddening rapidity.
Two hours more, and her fate and that of Armand would be sealed. In
two hours she must make up her mind whether she will keep the
knowledge so cunningly gained to herself, and leave her brother to his
fate, or whether she will wilfully betray a brave man, whose life was
devoted to his fellow-men, who was noble, generous, and above all,
unsuspecting. It seemed a horrible thing to do. But then, there was
Armand! Armand, too, was noble and brave, Armand, too, was
unsuspecting. And Armand loved her, would have willingly trusted his
life in her hands, and now, when she could save him from death, she
hesitated. Oh! it was monstrous; her brother's kind, gentle face, so
full of love for her, seemed to be looking reproachfully at her. "You
might have saved me, Margot!" he seemed to say to her, "and you chose
the life of a stranger, a man you do not know, whom you have never
seen, and preferred that he should be safe, whilst you sent me to the
guillotine!"

All these conflicting thoughts raged through Marguerite's
brain, while, with a smile upon her lips, she glided through the
graceful mazes of the minuet. She noted--with that acute sense of
hers--that she had succeeded in completely allaying Sir Andrew's
fears. Her self-control had been absolutely perfect--she was a finer
actress at this moment, and throughout the whole of this minuet, than
she had ever been upon the boards of the Comedie Francaise; but then,
a beloved brother's life had not depended upon her histrionic powers.

She was too clever to overdo her part, and made no further
allusions to the supposed BILLET DOUX, which had caused Sir Andrew
Ffoulkes such an agonising five minutes. She watched his anxiety
melting away under her sunny smile, and soon perceived that, whatever
doubt may have crossed his mind at the moment, she had, by the time
the last bars of the minuet had been played, succeeded in completely
dispelling it; he never realised in what a fever of excitement she
was, what effort it cost her to keep up a constant ripple of BANAL
conversation.

When the minuet was over, she asked Sir Andrew to take her
into the next room.

"I have promised to go down to supper with His Royal
Highness," she said, "but before we part, tell me. . .am I forgiven?"

"Forgiven?"

"Yes! Confess, I gave you a fright just now. . . . But
remember, I am not an English woman, and I do not look upon the
exchanging of BILLET DOUX as a crime, and I vow I'll not tell my
little Suzanne. But now, tell me, shall I welcome you at my
water-party on Wednesday?"

"I am not sure, Lady Blakeney," he replied evasively. "I may
have to leave London to-morrow."

"I would not do that, if I were you," she said earnestly; then
seeing the anxious look reappearing in his eyes, she added gaily; "No
one can throw a ball better than you can, Sir Andrew, we should so
miss you on the bowling-green."

He had led her across the room, to one beyond, where already
His Royal Highness was waiting for the beautiful Lady Blakeney.

"Madame, supper awaits us," said the Prince, offering his arm
to Marguerite, "and I am full of hope. The goddess Fortune has
frowned so persistently on me at hazard, that I look with confidence
for the smiles of the goddess of Beauty."

"Your Highness has been unfortunate at the card tables?" asked
Marguerite, as she took the Prince's arm.

"Aye! most unfortunate. Blakeney, not content with being the
richest among my father's subjects, has also the most outrageous luck.
By the way, where is that inimitable wit? I vow, Madam, that this
life would be but a dreary desert without your smiles and his
sallies."

CHAPTER XIV ONE O'CLOCK PRECISELY!

Supper had been extremely gay. All those present declared
that never had Lady Blakeney been more adorable, nor that "demmed
idiot" Sir Percy more amusing.

His Royal Highness had laughed until the tears streamed down
his cheeks at Blakeney's foolish yet funny repartees. His doggerel
verse, "We seek him here, we seek him there," etc., was sung to the
tune of "Ho! Merry Britons!" and to the accompaniment of glasses
knocked loudly against the table. Lord Grenville, moreover, had a
most perfect cook--some wags asserted that he was a scion of the old
French NOBLESSE, who having lost his fortune, had come to seek it in
the CUISINE of the Foreign Office.

Marguerite Blakeney was in her most brilliant mood, and surely
not a soul in that crowded supper-room had even an inkling of the
terrible struggle which was raging within her heart.

The clock was ticking so mercilessly on. It was long past
midnight, and even the Prince of Wales was thinking of leaving the
supper-table. Within the next half-hour the destinies of two brave
men would be pitted against one another--the dearly-beloved brother
and he, the unknown hero.

Marguerite had not tried to see Chauvelin during this last
hour; she knew that his keen, fox-like eyes would terrify her at once,
and incline the balance of her decision towards Armand. Whilst she
did not see him, there still lingered in her heart of hearts a vague,
undefined hope that "something" would occur, something big, enormous,
epoch-making, which would shift from her young, weak shoulders this
terrible burden of responsibility, of having to choose between two
such cruel alternatives.

But the minutes ticked on with that dull monotony which they
invariably seem to assume when our very nerves ache with their
incessant ticking.

After supper, dancing was resumed. His Royal Highness had
left, and there was general talk of departing among the older guests;
the young were indefatigable and had started on a new gavotte, which
would fill the next quarter of an hour.

Marguerite did not feel equal to another dance; there is a
limit to the most enduring of self-control. Escorted by a Cabinet
Minister, she had once more found her way to the tiny boudoir, still
the most deserted among all the rooms. She knew that Chauvelin must
be lying in wait for her somewhere, ready to seize the first possible
opportunity for a TETE-A-TETE. His eyes had met hers for a moment
after the `fore-supper minuet, and she knew that the keen diplomat,
with those searching pale eyes of his, had divined that her work was
accomplished.

Fate had willed it so. Marguerite, torn by the most terrible
conflict heart of woman can ever know, had resigned herself to its
decrees. But Armand must be saved at any cost; he, first of all, for
he was her brother, had been mother, father, friend to her ever since
she, a tiny babe, had lost both her parents. To think of Armand dying
a traitor's death on the guillotine was too horrible even to dwell
upon--impossible in fact. That could never be, never. . . . As for
the stranger, the hero. . .well! there, let Fate decide. Marguerite
would redeem her brother's life at the hands of the relentless enemy,
then let that cunning Scarlet Pimpernel extricate himself after that.

Perhaps--vaguely--Marguerite hoped that the daring plotter,
who for so many months had baffled an army of spies, would still
manage to evade Chauvelin and remain immune to the end.

She thought of all this, as she sat listening to the witty
discourse of the Cabinet Minister, who, no doubt, felt that he had
found in Lady Blakeney a most perfect listener. Suddenly she saw the
keen, fox-like face of Chauvelin peeping through the curtained
doorway.

"Lord Fancourt," she said to the Minister, "will you do me a
service?"

"I am entirely at your ladyship's service," he replied
gallantly.

"Will you see if my husband is still in the card-room? And if
he is, will you tell him that I am very tired, and would be glad to go
home soon."

The commands of a beautiful woman are binding on all mankind,
even on Cabinet Ministers. Lord Fancourt prepared to obey instantly.

"I do not like to leave your ladyship alone," he said.

"Never fear. I shall be quite safe here--and, I think,
undisturbed. . .but I am really tired. You know Sir Percy will drive
back to Richmond. It is a long way, and we shall not--an we do not
hurry--get home before daybreak."

Lord Fancourt had perforce to go.

The moment he had disappeared, Chauvelin slipped into the
room, and the next instant stood calm and impassive by her side.

"You have news for me?" he said.

An icy mantle seemed to have suddenly settled round
Marguerite's shoulders; though her cheeks glowed with fire, she felt
chilled and numbed. Oh, Armand! will you ever know the terrible
sacrifice of pride, of dignity, of womanliness a devoted sister is
making for your sake?

"Nothing of importance," she said, staring mechanically before
her, "but it might prove a clue. I contrived--no matter how--to
detect Sir Andrew Ffoulkes in the very act of burning a paper at one
of these candles, in this very room. That paper I succeeded in
holding between my fingers for the space of two minutes, and to cast
my eyes on it for that of ten seconds."

"Time enough to learn its contents?" asked Chauvelin, quietly.

She nodded. Then continued in the same even, mechanical tone
of voice--

"In the corner of the paper there was the usual rough device
of a small star-shaped flower. Above it I read two lines, everything
else was scorched and blackened by the flame."

"And what were the two lines?"

Her throat seemed suddenly to have contracted. For an instant
she felt that she could not speak the words, which might send a brave
man to his death.

"It is lucky that the whole paper was not burned," added
Chauvelin, with dry sarcasm, "for it might have fared ill with Armand
St. Just. What were the two lines citoyenne?"

"One was, `I start myself to-morrow,'" she said quietly, "the
other--'If you wish to speak to me, I shall be in the supper-room at
one o'clock precisely.'"

Chauvelin looked up at the clock just above the mantelpiece.

"Then I have plenty of time," he said placidly.

"What are you going to do?" she asked.

She was pale as a statue, her hands were icy cold, her head
and heart throbbed with the awful strain upon her nerves. Oh, this
was cruel! cruel! What had she done to have deserved all this? Her
choice was made: had she done a vile action or one that was sublime?
The recording angel, who writes in the book of gold, alone could give
an answer.

"What are you going to do?" she repeated mechanically.

"Oh, nothing for the present. After that it will depend."

"On what?"

"On whom I shall see in the supper-room at one o'clock
precisely."

"You will see the Scarlet Pimpernel, of course. But you do
not know him."

"No. But I shall presently."

"Sir Andrew will have warned him."

"I think not. When you parted from him after the minuet he
stood and watched you, for a moment or two, with a look which gave me
to understand that something had happened between you. It was only
natural, was it not? that I should make a shrewd guess as to the
nature of that `something.' I thereupon engaged the young man in a
long and animated conversation--we discussed Herr Gluck's singular
success in London--until a lady claimed his arm for supper."

"Since then?"

"I did not lose sight of him through supper. When we all came
upstairs again, Lady Portarles buttonholed him and started on the
subject of pretty Mlle. Suzanne de Tournay. I knew he would not move
until Lady Portarles had exhausted on the subject, which will not be
for another quarter of an hour at least, and it is five minutes to one
now."

He was preparing to go, and went up to the doorway where,
drawing aside the curtain, he stood for a moment pointing out to
Marguerite the distant figure of Sir Andrew Ffoulkes in close
conversation with Lady Portarles.

"I think," he said, with a triumphant smile, "that I may
safely expect to find the person I seek in the dining-room, fair
lady."

"There may be more than one."

"Whoever is there, as the clock strikes one, will be shadowed
by one of my men; of these, one, or perhaps two, or even three, will
leave for France to-morrow. ONE of these will be the `Scarlet
Pimpernel.'"

"Yes?--And?"

"I also, fair lady, will leave for France to-morrow. The
papers found at Dover upon the person of Sir Andrew Ffoulkes speak of
the neighborhood of Calais, of an inn which I know well, called `Le
Chat Gris,' of a lonely place somewhere on the coast--the Pere
Blanchard's hut--which I must endeavor to find. All these places are
given as the point where this meddlesome Englishman has bidden the
traitor de Tournay and others to meet his emissaries. But it seems
that he has decided not to send his emissaries, that `he will start
himself to-morrow.' Now, one of these persons whom I shall see anon
in the supper-room, will be journeying to Calais, and I shall follow
that person, until I have tracked him to where those fugitive
aristocrats await him; for that person, fair lady, will be the man
whom I have sought for, for nearly a year, the man whose energies has
outdone me, whose ingenuity has baffled me, whose audacity has set me
wondering--yes! me!--who have seen a trick or two in my time--the
mysterious and elusive Scarlet Pimpernel."

"And Armand?" she pleaded.

"Have I ever broken my word? I promise you that the day the
Scarlet Pimpernel and I start for France, I will send you that
imprudent letter of his by special courier. More than that, I will
pledge you the word of France, that the day I lay hands on that
meddlesome Englishman, St. Just will be here in England, safe in the
arms of his charming sister."

And with a deep and elaborate bow and another look at the
clock, Chauvelin glided out of the room.

It seemed to Marguerite that through all the noise, all the
din of music, dancing, and laughter, she could hear his cat-like
tread, gliding through the vast reception-rooms; that she could hear
him go down the massive staircase, reach the dining-room and open the
door. Fate HAD decided, had made her speak, had made her do a vile
and abominable thing, for the sake of the brother she loved. She lay
back in her chair, passive and still, seeing the figure of her
relentless enemy ever present before her aching eyes.

When Chauvelin reached the supper-room it was quite deserted.
It had that woebegone, forsaken, tawdry appearance, which reminds one
so much of a ball-dress, the morning after.

Half-empty glasses littered the table, unfolded napkins lay
about, the chairs--turned towards one another in groups of twos and
threes--very close to one another--in the far corners of the room,
which spoke of recent whispered flirtations, over cold game-pie and
champagne; there were sets of three and four chairs, that recalled
pleasant, animated discussions over the latest scandal; there were
chairs straight up in a row that still looked starchy, critical, acid,
like antiquated dowager; there were a few isolated, single chairs,
close to the table, that spoke of gourmands intent on the most
RECHERCHE dishes, and others overturned on the floor, that spoke
volumes on the subject of my Lord Grenville's cellars.

It was a ghostlike replica, in fact, of that fashionable
gathering upstairs; a ghost that haunts every house where balls and
good suppers are given; a picture drawn with white chalk on grey
cardboard, dull and colourless, now that the bright silk dresses and
gorgeously embroidered coats were no longer there to fill in the
foreground, and now that the candles flickered sleepily in their
sockets.

Chauvelin smiled benignly, and rubbing his long, thin hands
together, he looked round the deserted supper-room, whence even the
last flunkey had retired in order to join his friends in the hall
below. All was silence in the dimly-lighted room, whilst the sound of
the gavotte, the hum of distant talk and laughter, and the rumble of
an occasional coach outside, only seemed to reach this palace of the
Sleeping Beauty as the murmur of some flitting spooks far away.

It all looked so peaceful, so luxurious, and so still, that
the keenest observer--a veritable prophet--could never have guessed
that, at this present moment, that deserted supper-room was nothing
but a trap laid for the capture of the most cunning and audacious
plotter those stirring times had ever seen.

Chauvelin pondered and tried to peer into the immediate
future. What would this man be like, whom he and the leaders of the
whole revolution had sworn to bring to his death? Everything about
him was weird and mysterious; his personality, which he so cunningly
concealed, the power he wielded over nineteen English gentlemen who
seemed to obey his every command blindly and enthusiastically, the
passionate love and submission he had roused in his little trained
band, and, above all, his marvellous audacity, the boundless impudence
which had caused him to beard his most implacable enemies, within the
very walls of Paris.

No wonder that in France the SOBRIQUET of the mysterious
Englishman roused in the people a superstitious shudder. Chauvelin
himself as he gazed round the deserted room, where presently the weird
hero would appear, felt a strange feeling of awe creeping all down his
spine.

But his plans were well laid. He felt sure that the Scarlet
Pimpernel had not been warned, and felt equally sure that Marguerite
Blakeney had not played him false. If she had. . . .a cruel look,
that would have made her shudder, gleamed in Chauvelin's keen, pale
eyes. If she had played him a trick, Armand St. Just would suffer the
extreme penalty.

But no, no! of course she had not played him false!

Fortunately the supper-room was deserted: this would make
Chauvelin's task all the easier, when presently that unsuspecting
enigma would enter it alone. No one was here now save Chauvelin
himself.

Stay! as he surveyed with a satisfied smile the solitude of
the room, the cunning agent of the French Government became aware of
the peaceful, monotonous breathing of some one of my Lord Grenville's
guests, who, no doubt, had supped both wisely and well, and was
enjoying a quiet sleep, away from the din of the dancing above.

Chauvelin looked round once more, and there in the corner of a
sofa, in the dark angle of the room, his mouth open, his eyes shut,
the sweet sounds of peaceful slumbers proceedings from his nostrils,
reclined the gorgeously-apparelled, long-limbed husband of the
cleverest woman in Europe.

Chauvelin looked at him as he lay there, placid, unconscious,
at peace with all the world and himself, after the best of suppers,
and a smile, that was almost one of pity, softened for a moment the
hard lines of the Frenchman's face and the sarcastic twinkle of his
pale eyes.

Evidently the slumberer, deep in dreamless sleep, would not
interfere with Chauvelin's trap for catching that cunning Scarlet
Pimpernel. Again he rubbed his hands together, and, following the
example of Sir Percy Blakeney, he too, stretched himself out in the
corner of another sofa, shut his eyes, opened his mouth, gave forth
sounds of peaceful breathing, and. . .waited!

CHAPTER XV DOUBT

Marguerite Blakeney had watched the slight sable-clad figure
of Chauvelin, as he worked his way through the ball-room. Then
perforce she had had to wait, while her nerves tingled with
excitement.

Listlessly she sat in the small, still deserted boudoir,
looking out through the curtained doorway on the dancing couples
beyond: looking at them, yet seeing nothing, hearing the music, yet
conscious of naught save a feeling of expectancy, of anxious, weary
waiting.

Her mind conjured up before her the vision of what was,
perhaps at this very moment, passing downstairs. The half-deserted
dining-room, the fateful hour--Chauvelin on the watch!--then, precise
to the moment, the entrance of a man, he, the Scarlet Pimpernel, the
mysterious leader, who to Marguerite had become almost unreal, so
strange, so weird was this hidden identity.

She wished she were in the supper-room, too, at this moment,
watching him as he entered; she knew that her woman's penetration
would at once recognise in the stranger's face--whoever he might
be--that strong individuality which belongs to a leader of men--to a
hero: to the mighty, high-soaring eagle, whose daring wings were
becoming entangled in the ferret's trap.

Woman-like, she thought of him with unmixed sadness; the irony of
that fate seemed so cruel which allowed the fearless lion to succumb
to the gnawing of a rat! Ah! had Armand's life not been at stake!. . .

"Faith! your ladyship must have thought me very remiss," said a
voice suddenly, close to her elbow. "I had a deal of difficulty in
delivering your message, for I could not find Blakeney anywhere at
first. . ."

Marguerite had forgotten all about her husband and her message
to him; his very name, as spoken by Lord Fancourt, sounded strange and
unfamiliar to her, so completely had she in the last five minutes
lived her old life in the Rue de Richelieu again, with Armand always
near her to love and protect her, to guard her from the many subtle
intrigues which were forever raging in Paris in those days.

"I did find him at last," continued Lord Fancourt, "and gave
him your message. He said that he would give orders at once for the
horses to be put to."

"Ah!" she said, still very absently, "you found my husband,
and gave him my message?"

"Yes; he was in the dining-room fast asleep. I could not
manage to wake him up at first."

"Thank you very much," she said mechanically, trying to
collect her thoughts.

"Will your ladyship honour me with the CONTREDANSE until
your coach is ready?" asked Lord Fancourt.

"No, I thank you, my lord, but--and you will forgive me--I
really am too tired, and the heat in the ball-room has become
oppressive."

"The conservatory is deliciously cool; let me take you there,
and then get you something. You seem ailing, Lady Blakeney."

"I am only very tired," she repeated wearily, as she allowed
Lord Fancourt to lead her, where subdued lights and green plants lent
coolness to the air. He got her a chair, into which she sank. This
long interval of waiting was intolerable. Why did not Chauvelin come
and tell her the result of his watch?

Lord Fancourt was very attentive. She scarcely heard what he
said, and suddenly startled him by asking abruptly,--

"Lord Fancourt, did you perceive who was in the dining-room
just now besides Sir Percy Blakeney?"

"Only the agent of the French government, M. Chauvelin,
equally fast asleep in another corner," he said. "Why does your
ladyship ask?"

"I know not. . .I. . .Did you notice the time when you were
there?"

"It must have been about five or ten minutes past one. . . .
I wonder what your ladyship is thinking about," he added, for
evidently the fair lady's thoughts were very far away, and she had not
been listening to his intellectual conversation.

But indeed her thoughts were not very far away: only one
storey below, in this same house, in the dining-room where sat
Chauvelin still on the watch. Had he failed? For one instant that
possibility rose before as a hope--the hope that the Scarlet Pimpernel
had been warned by Sir Andrew, and that Chauvelin's trap had failed to
catch his bird; but that hope soon gave way to fear. Had he failed?
But then--Armand!

Lord Fancourt had given up talking since he found that he had
no listener. He wanted an opportunity for slipping away; for sitting
opposite to a lady, however fair, who is evidently not heeding the
most vigorous efforts made for her entertainment, is not exhilarating,
even to a Cabinet Minister.

"Shall I find out if your ladyship's coach is ready," he said
at last, tentatively.

"Oh, thank you. . .thank you. . .if you would be so kind. . .I
fear I am but sorry company. . .but I am really tired. . .and,
perhaps, would be best alone.

But Lord Fancourt went, and still Chauvelin did not come. Oh!
what had happened? She felt Armand's fate trembling in the
balance. . .she feared--now with a deadly fear that Chauvelin HAD
failed, and that the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel had proved elusive
once more; then she knew that she need hope for no pity, no mercy,
from him.

He had pronounced his "Either--or--" and nothing less would
content him: he was very spiteful, and would affect the belief that
she had wilfully misled him, and having failed to trap the eagle once
again, his revengeful mind would be content with the humble
prey--Armand!

Yet she had done her best; had strained every nerve for
Armand's sake. She could not bear to think that all had failed. She
could not sit still; she wanted to go and hear the worst at once; she
wondered even that Chauvelin had not come yet, to vent his wrath and
satire upon her.

Lord Grenville himself came presently to tell her that her
coach was ready, and that Sir Percy was already waiting for
her--ribbons in hand. Marguerite said "Farewell" to her distinguished
host; many of her friends stopped her, as she crossed the rooms, to
talk to her, and exchange pleasant AU REVOIRS.

The Minister only took final leave of beautiful Lady Blakeney
on the top of the stairs; below, on the landing, a veritable army of
gallant gentlemen were waiting to bid "Good-bye" to the queen of
beauty and fashion, whilst outside, under the massive portico, Sir
Percy's magnificent bays were impatient pawing the ground.

At the top of the stairs, just after she had taken final leave
of her host, she suddenly say Chauvelin; he was coming up the stairs
slowly, and rubbing his thin hands very softly together.

There was a curious look on his mobile face, partly amused and
wholly puzzled, as his keen eyes met Marguerite's they became
strangely sarcastic.

"M. Chauvelin," she said, as he stopped on the top of the
stairs, bowing elaborately before her, "my coach is outside; may I
claim your arm?"

As gallant as ever, he offered her his arm and led her
downstairs. The crowd was very great, some of the Minister's guests
were departing, others were leaning against the banisters watching the
throng as it filed up and down the wide staircase.

"Chauvelin," she said at last desperately, "I must know what
has happened."

"What has happened, dear lady?" he said, with affected
surprise. "Where? When?"

"You are torturing me, Chauvelin. I have helped you
to-night. . .surely I have the right to know. What happened in the
dining-room at one o'clock just now?"

She spoke in a whisper, trusting that in the general hubbub of
the crowd her words would remain unheeded by all, save the man at her
side.

"Quiet and peace reigned supreme, fair lady; at that hour I
was asleep in one corner of one sofa and Sir Percy Blakeney in
another."

"Nobody came into the room at all?"

"Nobody."

"Then we have failed, you and I?"

"Yes! we have failed--perhaps. . ."

"But Armand?" she pleaded.

"Ah! Armand St. Just's chances hang on a thread. . .pray heaven,
dear lady, that that thread may not snap."

"Chauvelin, I worked for you, sincerely, earnestly. . . remember. . . ."

"I remember my promise," he said quietly. "The day that the
Scarlet Pimpernel and I meet on French soil, St. Just will be in the
arms of his charming sister."

"Which means that a brave man's blood will be on my hands,"
she said, with a shudder.

"His blood, or that of your brother. Surely at the present
moment you must hope, as I do, that the enigmatical Scarlet Pimpernel
will start for Calais to-day--"

"I am only conscious of one hope, citoyen."

"And that is?"

"That Satan, your master, will have need of you elsewhere,
before the sun rises to-day."

"You flatter me, citoyenne."

She had detained him for a while, mid-way down the stairs,
trying to get at the thoughts which lay beyond that thin, fox-like
mask. But Chauvelin remained urbane, sarcastic, mysterious; not a
line betrayed to the poor, anxious woman whether she need fear or
whether she dared to hope.

Downstairs on the landing she was soon surrounded. Lady
Blakeney never stepped from any house into her coach, without an
escort of fluttering human moths around the dazzling light of her
beauty. But before she finally turned away from Chauvelin, she held
out a tiny hand to him, with that pretty gesture of childish appeal
which was essentially her own.
"Give me some hope, my little Chauvelin," she pleaded.

With perfect gallantry he bowed over that tiny hand, which
looked so dainty and white through the delicately transparent black
lace mitten, and kissing the tips of the rosy fingers:--

"Pray heaven that the thread may not snap," he repeated, with
his enigmatic smile.

And stepping aside, he allowed the moths to flutter more
closely round the candle, and the brilliant throng of the JEUNESSE
DOREE, eagerly attentive to Lady Blakeney's every movement, hid the
keen, fox-like face from her view.

CHAPTER XVI RICHMOND

A few minutes later she was sitting, wrapped in cozy furs,
near Sir Percy Blakeney on the box-seat of his magnificent coach, and
the four splendid bays had thundered down the quiet street.

The night was warm in spite of the gentle breeze which fanned
Marguerite's burning cheeks. Soon London houses were left behind, and
rattling over old Hammersmith Bridge, Sir Percy was driving his bays
rapidly towards Richmond.

The river wound in and out in its pretty delicate curves,
looking like a silver serpent beneath the glittering rays of the moon.
Long shadows from overhanging trees spread occasional deep palls right
across the road. The bays were rushing along at breakneck speed, held
but slightly back by Sir Percy's strong, unerring hands.

These nightly drives after balls and suppers in London were a
source of perpetual delight to Marguerite, and she appreciated her
husband's eccentricity keenly, which caused him to adopt this mode of
taking her home every night, to their beautiful home by the river,
instead of living in a stuffy London house. He loved driving his
spirited horses along the lonely, moonlit roads, and she loved to sit
on the box-seat, with the soft air of an English late summer's night
fanning her face after the hot atmosphere of a ball or supper-party.
The drive was not a long one--less than an hour, sometimes, when the
bays were very fresh, and Sir Percy gave them full rein.

To-night he seemed to have a very devil in his fingers, and
the coach seemed to fly along the road, beside the river. As usual,
he did not speak to her, but stared straight in front of him, the
ribbons seeming to lie quite loosely in his slender, white hands.
Marguerite looked at him tentatively once or twice; she could see his
handsome profile, and one lazy eye, with its straight fine brow and
drooping heavy lid.

The face in the moonlight looked singularly earnest, and
recalled to Marguerite's aching heart those happy days of courtship,
before he had become the lazy nincompoop, the effete fop, whose life
seemed spent in card and supper rooms.

But now, in the moonlight, she could not catch the expression
of the lazy blue eyes; she could only see the outline of the firm
chin, the corner of the strong mouth, the well-cut massive shape of
the forehead; truly, nature had meant well by Sir Percy; his faults
must all be laid at the door of that poor, half-crazy mother, and of
the distracted heart-broken father, neither of whom had cared for the
young life which was sprouting up between them, and which, perhaps,
their very carelessness was already beginning to wreck.

Marguerite suddenly felt intense sympathy for her husband.
The moral crisis she had just gone through made her feel indulgent
towards the faults, the delinquencies, of others.

How thoroughly a human being can be buffeted and overmastered
by Fate, had been borne in upon her with appalling force. Had anyone
told her a week ago that she would stoop to spy upon her friends, that
she would betray a brave and unsuspecting man into the hands of a
relentless enemy, she would have laughed the idea to scorn.

Yet she had done these things; anon, perhaps the death of that
brave man would be at her door, just as two years ago the Marquis de
St. Cyr had perished through a thoughtless words of hers; but in that
case she was morally innocent--she had meant no serious harm--fate
merely had stepped in. But this time she had done a thing that
obviously was base, had done it deliberately, for a motive which,
perhaps, high moralists would not even appreciate.

As she felt her husband's strong arm beside her, she also felt
how much more he would dislike and despise her, if he knew of this
night's work. Thus human beings judge of one another, with but little
reason, and no charity. She despised her husband for his inanities
and vulgar, unintellectual occupations; and he, she felt, would
despise her still worse, because she had not been strong enough to do
right for right's sake, and to sacrifice her brother to the dictates
of her conscience.

Buried in her thoughts, Marguerite had found this hour in the
breezy summer night all too brief; and it was with a feeling of keen
disappointment, that she suddenly realised that the bays had turned
into the massive gates of her beautiful English home.

Sir Percy Blakeney's house on the river has become a historic
one: palatial in its dimensions, it stands in the midst of exquisitely
laid-out gardens, with a picturesque terrace and frontage to the
river. Built in Tudor days, the old red brick of the walls looks
eminently picturesque in the midst of a bower of green, the beautiful
lawn, with its old sun-dial, adding the true note of harmony to its
foregrounds, and now, on this warm early autumn night, the leaves
slightly turned to russets and gold, the old garden looked singularly
poetic and peaceful in the moonlight.

With unerring precision, Sir Percy had brought the four bays
to a standstill immediately in front of the fine Elizabethan entrance
hall; in spite of the late hour, an army of grooms seemed to have
emerged from the very ground, as the coach had thundered up, and were
standing respectfully round.

Sir Percy jumped down quickly, then helped Marguerite to
alight. She lingered outside a moment, whilst he gave a few orders to
one of his men. She skirted the house, and stepped on to the lawn,
looking out dreamily into the silvery landscape. Nature seemed
exquisitely at peace, in comparison with the tumultuous emotions she
had gone through: she could faintly hear the ripple of the river and
the occasional soft and ghostlike fall of a dead leaf from a tree.

All else was quiet round her. She had heard the horses
prancing as they were being led away to their distant stables, the
hurrying of servant's feet as they had all gone within to rest: the
house also was quite still. In two separate suites of apartments,
just above the magnificent reception-rooms, lights were still burning,
they were her rooms, and his, well divided from each other by the
whole width of the house, as far apart as their own lives had become.
Involuntarily she sighed--at that moment she could really not have
told why.

She was suffering from unconquerable heartache. Deeply and
achingly she was sorry for herself. Never had she felt so pitiably
lonely, so bitterly in want of comfort and of sympathy. With another
sigh she turned away from the river towards the house, vaguely
wondering if, after such a night, she could ever find rest and sleep.

Suddenly, before she reached the terrace, she heard a firm
step upon the crisp gravel, and the next moment her husband's figure
emerged out of the shadow. He too, had skirted the house, and was
wandering along the lawn, towards the river. He still wore his heavy
driving coat with the numerous lapels and collars he himself had set
in fashion, but he had thrown it well back, burying his hands as was
his wont, in the deep pockets of his satin breeches: the gorgeous
white costume he had worn at Lord Grenville's ball, with its jabot of
priceless lace, looked strangely ghostly against the dark background
of the house.

He apparently did not notice her, for, after a few moments
pause, he presently turned back towards the house, and walked straight
up to the terrace.

"Sir Percy!"

He already had one foot on the lowest of the terrace steps,
but at her voice he started, and paused, then looked searchingly into
the shadows whence she had called to him.

She came forward quickly into the moonlight, and, as soon as
he saw her, he said, with that air of consummate gallantry he always
wore when speaking to her,--

"At your service, Madame!"
But his foot was still on the step, and in his whole attitude
there was a remote suggestion, distinctly visible to her, that he
wished to go, and had no desire for a midnight interview.

"The air is deliciously cool," she said, "the moonlight
peaceful and poetic, and the garden inviting. Will you not stay in it
awhile; the hour is not yet late, or is my company so distasteful to
you, that you are in a hurry to rid yourself of it?"

"Nay, Madame," he rejoined placidly, "but `tis on the other
foot the shoe happens to be, and I'll warrant you'll find the midnight
air more poetic without my company: no doubt the sooner I remove the
obstruction the better your ladyship will like it."

He turned once more to go.

"I protest you mistake me, Sir Percy," she said hurriedly, and
drawing a little closer to him; "the estrangement, which alas! has
arisen between us, was none of my making, remember."

"Begad! you must pardon me there, Madame!" he protested
coldly, "my memory was always of the shortest."

He looked her straight in the eyes, with that lazy
non-chalance which had become second nature to him. She returned his
gaze for a moment, then her eyes softened, as she came up quite close
to him, to the foot of the terrace steps.

"Of the shortest, Sir Percy! Faith! how it must have
altered! Was it three years ago or four that you saw me for one hour
in Paris, on your way to the East? When you came back two years later
you had not forgotten me."

She looked divinely pretty as she stood there in the
moonlight, with the fur-cloak sliding off her beautiful shoulders, the
gold embroidery on her dress shimmering around her, her childlike blue
eyes turned up fully at him.

He stood for a moment, rigid and still, but for the clenching
of his hand against the stone balustrade of the terrace.

"You desired my presence, Madame," he said frigidly. "I take
it that it was not with the view to indulging in tender
reminiscences."

His voice certainly was cold and uncompromising: his attitude
before her, stiff and unbending. Womanly decorum would have suggested
Marguerite should return coldness for coldness, and should sweep past
him without another word, only with a curt nod of her head: but
womanly instinct suggested that she should remain--that keen instinct,
which makes a beautiful woman conscious of her powers long to bring to
her knees the one man who pays her no homage. She stretched out her
hand to him.

"Nay, Sir Percy, why not? the present is not so glorious but
that I should not wish to dwell a little in the past."

He bent his tall figure, and taking hold of the extreme tip of
the fingers which she still held out to him, he kissed them
ceremoniously.

"I' faith, Madame," he said, "then you will pardon me, if my
dull wits cannot accompany you there."

Once again he attempted to go, once more her voice, sweet,
childlike, almost tender, called him back.

"Sir Percy."

"Your servant, Madame."

"Is it possible that love can die?" she said with sudden,
unreasoning vehemence. "Methought that the passion which you once
felt for me would outlast the span of human life. Is there nothing
left of that love, Percy. . .which might help you. . .to bridge over
that sad estrangement?"

His massive figure seemed, while she spoke thus to him, to
stiffen still more, the strong mouth hardened, a look of relentless
obstinacy crept into the habitually lazy blue eyes.

"With what object, I pray you, Madame?" he asked coldly.

"I do not understand you."

"Yet `tis simple enough," he said with sudden bitterness,
which seemed literally to surge through his words, though he was
making visible efforts to suppress it, "I humbly put the question to
you, for my slow wits are unable to grasp the cause of this, your
ladyship's sudden new mood. Is it that you have the taste to renew
the devilish sport which you played so successfully last year? Do you
wish to see me once more a love-sick suppliant at your feet, so that
you might again have the pleasure of kicking me aside, like a
troublesome lap-dog?"

She had succeeded in rousing him for the moment: and again she
looked straight at him, for it was thus she remembered him a year ago.

"Percy! I entreat you!" she whispered, "can we not bury the past?"

"Pardon me, Madame, but I understood you to say that your
desire was to dwell in it."

"Nay! I spoke not of THAT past, Percy!" she said, while a tone
of tenderness crept into her voice. "Rather did I speak of a
time when you loved me still! and I. . .oh! I was vain and frivolous;
your wealth and position allured me: I married you, hoping in my heart that
your great love for me would beget in me a love for you. . .but, alas!. . ."

The moon had sunk low down behind a bank of clouds. In the
east a soft grey light was beginning to chase away the heavy mantle of
the night. He could only see her graceful outline now, the small
queenly head, with its wealth of reddish golden curls, and the
glittering gems forming the small, star-shaped, red flower which she
wore as a diadem in her hair.

"Twenty-four hours after our marriage, Madame, the Marquis de
St. Cyr and all his family perished on the guillotine, and the popular
rumour reached me that it was the wife of Sir Percy Blakeney who
helped to send them there."

"Nay! I myself told you the truth of that odious tale."

"Not till after it had been recounted to me by strangers, with
all its horrible details."

"And you believed them then and there," she said with great
vehemence, "without a proof or question--you believed that I, whom you
vowed you loved more than life, whom you professed you worshipped,
that _I_ could do a thing so base as these STRANGERS chose to
recount. You thought I meant to deceive you about it all--that I
ought to have spoken before I married you: yet, had you listened, I
would have told you that up to the very morning on which St. Cyr went
to the guillotine, I was straining every nerve, using every influence
I possessed, to save him and his family. But my pride sealed my lips,
when your love seemed to perish, as if under the knife of that same
guillotine. Yet I would have told you how I was duped! Aye! I, whom
that same popular rumour had endowed with the sharpest wits in France!
I was tricked into doing this thing, by men who knew how to play upon
my love for an only brother, and my desire for revenge. Was it
unnatural?"

Her voice became choked with tears. She paused for a moment
or two, trying to regain some sort of composure. She looked
appealingly at him, almost as if he were her judge. He had allowed
her to speak on in her own vehement, impassioned way, offering no
comment, no word of sympathy: and now, while she paused, trying to
swallow down the hot tears that gushed to her eyes, he waited,
impassive and still. The dim, grey light of early dawn seemed to make
his tall form look taller and more rigid. The lazy, good-natured face
looked strangely altered. Marguerite, excited, as she was, could see
that the eyes were no longer languid, the mouth no longer
good-humoured and inane. A curious look of intense passion seemed to
glow from beneath his drooping lids, the mouth was tightly closed, the
lips compressed, as if the will alone held that surging passion in
check.

Marguerite Blakeney was, above all, a woman, with all a
woman's fascinating foibles, all a woman's most lovable sins. She
knew in a moment that for the past few months she had been mistaken:
that this man who stood here before her, cold as a statue, when her
musical voice struck upon his ear, loved her, as he had loved her a
year ago: that his passion might have been dormant, but that it was
there, as strong, as intense, as overwhelming, as when first her lips
met his in one long, maddening kiss.
Pride had kept him from her, and, woman-like, she meant to win
back that conquest which had been hers before. Suddenly it seemed to
her that the only happiness life could every hold for her again would
be in feeling that man's kiss once more upon her lips.

"Listen to the tale, Sir Percy," she said, and her voice was
low, sweet, infinitely tender. "Armand was all in all to me! We had
no parents, and brought one another up. He was my little father, and
I, his tiny mother; we loved one another so. Then one day--do you
mind me, Sir Percy? the Marquis de St. Cyr had my brother Armand
thrashed--thrashed by his lacqueys--that brother whom I loved better
than all the world! And his offence? That he, a plebeian, had dared
to love the daughter of the aristocrat; for that he was waylaid and
thrashed. . .thrashed like a dog within an inch of his life! Oh, how
I suffered! his humiliation had eaten into my very soul! When the
opportunity occurred, and I was able to take my revenge, I took it.
But I only thought to bring that proud marquis to trouble and
humiliation. He plotted with Austria against his own country. Chance
gave me knowledge of this; I spoke of it, but I did not know--how
could I guess?--they trapped and duped me. When I realised what I had
done, it was too late."

"It is perhaps a little difficult, Madame," said Sir Percy,
after a moment of silence between them, "to go back over the past. I
have confessed to you that my memory is short, but the thought
certainly lingered in my mind that, at the time of the Marquis' death,
I entreated you for an explanation of those same noisome popular
rumours. If that same memory does not, even now, play me a trick, I
fancy that you refused me ALL explanation then, and demanded of my
love a humiliating allegiance it was not prepared to give."

"I wished to test your love for me, and it did not bear the
test. You used to tell me that you drew the very breath of life but
for me, and for love of me."

"And to probe that love, you demanded that I should forfeit
mine honour," he said, whilst gradually his impassiveness seemed to
leave him, his rigidity to relax; "that I should accept without murmur
or question, as a dumb and submissive slave, every action of my
mistress. My heart overflowing with love and passion, I ASKED for
no explanation--I WAITED for one, not doubting--only hoping. Had
you spoken but one word, from you I would have accepted any
explanation and believed it. But you left me without a word, beyond a
bald confession of the actual horrible facts; proudly you returned to
your brother's house, and left me alone. . .for weeks. . .not knowing,
now, in whom to believe, since the shrine, which contained my one
illusion, lay shattered to earth at my feet."

She need not complain now that he was cold and impassive; his
very voice shook with an intensity of passion, which he was making
superhuman efforts to keep in check.

"Aye! the madness of my pride!" she said sadly. "Hardly had
I gone, already I had repented. But when I returned, I found you, oh,
so altered! wearing already that mask of somnolent indifference which
you have never laid aside until. . .until now."

She was so close to him that her soft, loose hair was wafted
against his cheek; her eyes, glowing with tears, maddened him, the
music in her voice sent fire through his veins. But he would not
yield to the magic charm of this woman whom he had so deeply loved,
and at whose hands his pride had suffered so bitterly. He closed his
eyes to shut out the dainty vision of that sweet face, of that
snow-white neck and graceful figure, round which the faint rosy light
of dawn was just beginning to hover playfully.

"Nay, Madame, it is no mask," he said icily; "I swore to
you. . .once, that my life was yours. For months now it has been your
plaything. . .it has served its purpose."

But now she knew that the very coldness was a mask. The
trouble, the sorrow she had gone through last night, suddenly came
back into her mind, but no longer with bitterness, rather with a
feeling that this man who loved her, would help her bear the burden.

"Sir Percy," she said impulsively, "Heaven knows you have been
at pains to make the task, which I had set to myself, difficult to
accomplish. You spoke of my mood just now; well! we will call it
that, if you will. I wished to speak to you. . .because. . .because I
was in trouble. . .and had need. . .of your sympathy."

"It is yours to command, Madame."

"How cold you are!" she sighed. "Faith! I can scarce believe
that but a few months ago one tear in my eye had set you well-nigh
crazy. Now I come to you. . .with a half-broken heart. . .and. . .
and. . ."

"I pray you, Madame," he said, whilst his voice shook almost
as much as hers, "in what way can I serve you?"

"Percy!--Armand is in deadly danger. A letter of his. . .
rash, impetuous, as were all his actions, and written to Sir Andrew
Ffoulkes, has fallen into the hands of a fanatic. Armand is
hopelessly compromised. . .to-morrow, perhaps he will be arrested. . .
after that the guillotine. . .unless. . .oh! it is horrible!". . .
she said, with a sudden wail of anguish, as all the events of the past
night came rushing back to her mind, "horrible!. . .and you do not
understand. . .you cannot. . .and I have no one to whom I can
turn. . .for help. . .or even for sympathy. . ."

Tears now refused to be held back. All her trouble, her
struggles, the awful uncertainty of Armand's fate overwhelmed her.
She tottered, ready to fall, and leaning against the tone balustrade,
she buried her face in her hands and sobbed bitterly.

At first mention of Armand St. Just's name and of the peril in
which he stood, Sir Percy's face had become a shade more pale; and the
look of determination and obstinacy appeared more marked than ever
between his eyes. However, he said nothing for the moment, but
watched her, as her delicate frame was shaken with sobs, watched her
until unconsciously his face softened, and what looked almost like
tears seemed to glisten in his eyes.

"And so," he said with bitter sarcasm, "the murderous dog of
the revolution is turning upon the very hands that fed it?. . .Begad,
Madame," he added very gently, as Marguerite continued to sob
hysterically, "will you dry your tears?. . .I never could bear to see
a pretty woman cry, and I. . ."

Instinctively, with sudden overmastering passion at the sight
of her helplessness and of her grief, he stretched out his arms, and
the next, would have seized her and held her to him, protected from
every evil with his very life, his very heart's blood. . . . But
pride had the better of it in this struggle once again; he restrained
himself with a tremendous effort of will, and said coldly, though
still very gently,--

"Will you not turn to me, Madame, and tell me in what way I
may have the honour to serve you?"

She made a violent effort to control herself, and turning her
tear-stained face to him, she once more held out her hand, which he
kissed with the same punctilious gallantry; but Marguerite's fingers,
this time, lingered in his hand for a second or two longer than was
absolutely necessary, and this was because she had felt that his hand
trembled perceptibly and was burning hot, whilst his lips felt as cold
as marble.

"Can you do aught for Armand?" she said sweetly and simply.
"You have so much influence at court. . .so many friends. . ."

"Nay, Madame, should you not seek the influence of your French
friend, M. Chauvelin? His extends, if I mistake not, even as far as
the Republican Government of France."

"I cannot ask him, Percy. . . . Oh! I wish I dared to tell
you. . .but. . .but. . .he has put a price on my brother's head,
which. . ."

She would have given worlds if she had felt the courage then
to tell him everything. . .all she had done that night--how she had
suffered and how her hand had been forced. But she dared not give way
to that impulse. . .not now, when she was just beginning to feel that
he still loved her, when she hoped that she could win him back. She
dared not make another confession to him. After all, he might not
understand; he might not sympathise with her struggles and temptation.
His love still dormant might sleep the sleep of death.

Perhaps he divined what was passing in her mind. His whole
attitude was one of intense longing--a veritable prayer for that
confidence, which her foolish pride withheld from him. When she
remained silent he sighed, and said with marked coldness--

"Faith, Madame, since it distresses you, we will not speak of
it. . . . As for Armand, I pray you have no fear. I pledge you
my word that he shall be safe. Now, have I your permission to go?
The hour is getting late, and. . ."

"You will at least accept my gratitude?" she said, as she drew
quite close to him, and speaking with real tenderness.

With a quick, almost involuntary effort he would have taken
her then in his arms, for her eyes were swimming in tears, which he
longed to kiss away; but she had lured him once, just like this, then
cast him aside like an ill-fitting glove. He thought this was but a
mood, a caprice, and he was too proud to lend himself to it once
again.

"It is too soon, Madame!" he said quietly; "I have done
nothing as yet. The hour is late, and you must be fatigued. Your
women will be waiting for you upstairs."

He stood aside to allow her to pass. She sighed, a quick sigh
of disappointment. His pride and her beauty had been in direct
conflict, and his pride had remained the conqueror. Perhaps, after
all, she had been deceived just now; what she took to be the light of
love in his eyes might only have been the passion of pride or, who
knows, of hatred instead of love. She stood looking at him for a
moment or two longer. He was again as rigid, as impassive, as before.
Pride had conquered, and he cared naught for her. The grey light of
dawn was gradually yielding to the rosy light of the rising sun.
Birds began to twitter; Nature awakened, smiling in happy response to
the warmth of this glorious October morning. Only between these two
hearts there lay a strong, impassable barrier, built up of pride on
both sides, which neither of them cared to be the first to demolish.

He had bent his tall figure in a low ceremonious bow, as she
finally, with another bitter little sigh, began to mount the terrace
steps.

The long train of her gold-embroidered gown swept the dead
leaves off the steps, making a faint harmonious sh--sh--sh as she
glided up, with one hand resting on the balustrade, the rosy light of
dawn making an aureole of gold round her hair, and causing the rubies
on her head and arms to sparkle. She reached the tall glass doors
which led into the house. Before entering, she paused once again to
look at him, hoping against hope to see his arms stretched out to her,
and to hear his voice calling her back. But he had not moved; his
massive figure looked the very personification of unbending pride, of
fierce obstinacy.

Hot tears again surged to her eyes, as she would not let him
see them, she turned quickly within, and ran as fast as she could up
to her own rooms.

Had she but turned back then, and looked out once more on to
the rose-lit garden, she would have seen that which would have made
her own sufferings seem but light and easy to bear--a strong man,
overwhelmed with his own passion and his own despair. Pride had given
way at last, obstinacy was gone: the will was powerless. He was but a
man madly, blindly, passionately in love, and as soon as her light
footsteps had died away within the house, he knelt down upon the
terrace steps, and in the very madness of his love he kissed one by
one the places where her small foot had trodden, and the stone
balustrade there, where her tiny hand had rested last.

CHAPTER XVII FAREWELL

When Marguerite reached her room, she found her maid terribly
anxious about her.

"Your ladyship will be so tired," said the poor woman, whose
own eyes were half closed with sleep. "It is past five o'clock."

"Ah, yes, Louise, I daresay I shall be tired presently," said
Marguerite, kindly; "but you are very tired now, so go to bed at once.
I'll get into bed alone."

"But, my lady. . ."

"Now, don't argue, Louise, but go to bed. Give me a wrap, and
leave me alone."

Louise was only too glad to obey. She took off her mistress's
gorgeous ball-dress, and wrapped her up in a soft billowy gown.

"Does your ladyship wish for anything else?" she asked, when
that was done.

"No, nothing more. Put out the lights as you go out."

"Yes, my lady. Good-night, my lady."

"Good-night, Louise."

When the maid was gone, Marguerite drew aside the curtains and
threw open the windows. The garden and the river beyond were flooded
with rosy light. Far away to the east, the rays of the rising sun had
changed the rose into vivid gold. The lawn was deserted now, and
Marguerite looked down upon the terrace where she had stood a few
moments ago trying in vain to win back a man's love, which once had
been so wholly hers.

It was strange that through all her troubles, all her anxiety
for Armand, she was mostly conscious at the present moment of a keen
and bitter heartache.

Her very limbs seemed to ache with longing for the love of a
man who had spurned her, who had resisted her tenderness, remained
cold to her appeals, and had not responded to the glow of passion,
which had caused her to feel and hope that those happy olden days in
Paris were not all dead and forgotten.

How strange it all was! She loved him still. And now that
she looked back upon the last few months of misunderstandings and of
loneliness, she realised that she had never ceased to love him; that
deep down in her heart she had always vaguely felt that his foolish
inanities, his empty laugh, his lazy nonchalance were nothing but a
mask; that the real man, strong, passionate, wilful, was there
still--the man she had loved, whose intensity had fascinated her,
whose personality attracted her, since she always felt that behind his
apparently slow wits there was a certain something, which he kept
hidden from all the world, and most especially from her.

A woman's heart is such a complex problem--the owner thereof
is often most incompetent to find the solution of this puzzle.

Did Marguerite Blakeney, "the cleverest woman in Europe,"
really love a fool? Was it love that she had felt for him a year ago
when she married him? Was it love she felt for him now that she
realised that he still loved her, but that he would not become her
slave, her passionate, ardent lover once again? Nay! Marguerite
herself could not have told that. Not at this moment at any rate;
perhaps her pride had sealed her mind against a better understanding
of her own heart. But this she did know--that she meant to capture
that obstinate heart back again. That she would conquer once
more. . .and then, that she would never lose him. . . . She would
keep him, keep his love, deserve it, and cherish it; for this much was
certain, that there was no longer any happiness possible for her
without that one man's love.

Thus the most contradictory thoughts and emotions rushed madly
through her mind. Absorbed in them, she had allowed time to slip by;
perhaps, tired out with long excitement, she had actually closed her
eyes and sunk into a troubled sleep, wherein quickly fleeting dreams
seemed but the continuation of her anxious thoughts--when suddenly she
was roused, from dream or meditation, by the noise of footsteps
outside her door.

Nervously she jumped up and listened; the house itself was as
still as ever; the footsteps had retreated. Through her wide-open
window the brilliant rays of the morning sun were flooding her room
with light. She looked up at the clock; it was half-past six--too
early for any of the household to be already astir.

She certainly must have dropped asleep, quite unconsciously.
The noise of the footsteps, also of hushed subdued voices had awakened
her--what could they be?

Gently, on tip-toe, she crossed the room and opened the door
to listen; not a sound--that peculiar stillness of the early morning
when sleep with all mankind is at its heaviest. But the noise had
made her nervous, and when, suddenly, at her feet, on the very
doorstep, she saw something white lying there--a letter evidently--she
hardly dared touch it. It seemed so ghostlike. It certainly was not
there when she came upstairs; had Louise dropped it? or was some
tantalising spook at play, showing her fairy letters where none
existed?

At last she stooped to pick it up, and, amazed, puzzled beyond
measure, she saw that the letter was addressed to herself in her
husband's large, businesslike-looking hand. What could he have to say
to her, in the middle of the night, which could not be put off until
the morning?

She tore open the envelope and read:--

"A most unforeseen circumstance forces me to leave for
the North immediately, so I beg your ladyship's pardon if I do
not avail myself of the honour of bidding you good-bye. My
business may keep me employed for about a week, so I shall not
have the privilege of being present at your ladyship's
water-party on Wednesday. I remain your ladyship's most
humble and most obedient servant,
PERCY BLAKENEY."

Marguerite must suddenly have been imbued with her husband's
slowness of intellect, for she had perforce to read the few simple
lines over and over again, before she could fully grasp their meaning.

She stood on the landing, turning over and over in her hand
this curt and mysterious epistle, her mind a blank, her nerves
strained with agitation and a presentiment she could not very well
have explained.

Sir Percy owned considerable property in the North, certainly,
and he had often before gone there alone and stayed away a week at a
time; but it seemed so very strange that circumstances should have
arisen between five and six o'clock in the morning that compelled him
to start in this extreme hurry.

Vainly she tried to shake off an unaccustomed feeling of
nervousness: she was trembling from head to foot. A wild,
unconquerable desire seized her to see her husband again, at once, if
only he had not already started.

Forgetting the fact that she was only very lightly clad in a
morning wrap, and that her hair lay loosely about her shoulders, she
flew down the stairs, right through the hall towards the front door.

It was as usual barred and bolted, for the indoor servants
were not yet up; but her keen ears had detected the sound of voices
and the pawing of a horse's hoof against the flag-stones.

With nervous, trembling fingers Marguerite undid the bolts one
by one, bruising her hands, hurting her nails, for the locks were
heavy and stiff. But she did not care; her whole frame shook with
anxiety at the very thought that she might be too late; that he might
have gone without her seeing him and bidding him "God-speed!"

At last, she had turned the key and thrown open the door.
Her ears had not deceived her. A groom was standing close by holding
a couple of horses; one of these was Sultan, Sir Percy's favourite and
swiftest horse, saddled ready for a journey.

The next moment Sir Percy himself appeared round the further
corner of the house and came quickly towards the horses. He had
changed his gorgeous ball costume, but was as usual irreproachably and
richly apparelled in a suit of fine cloth, with lace jabot and
ruffles, high top-boots, and riding breeches.

Marguerite went forward a few steps. He looked up and saw her.
A slight frown appeared between his eyes.

"You are going?" she said quickly and feverishly. "Whither?"

"As I have had the honour of informing your ladyship, urgent,
most unexpected business calls me to the North this morning," he said,
in his usual cold, drawly manner.

"But. . .your guests to-morrow. . ."

"I have prayed your ladyship to offer my humble excuses to His
Royal Highness. You are such a perfect hostess, I do not think I
shall be missed."

"But surely you might have waited for your journey. . .until
after our water-party. . ." she said, still speaking quickly and
nervously. "Surely this business is not so urgent. . .and you said
nothing about it--just now."

"My business, as I had the honour to tell you, Madame, is as
unexpected as it is urgent. . . . May I therefore crave your
permission to go. . . . Can I do aught for you in town?. . .on my way
back?"

"No. . .no. . .thanks. . .nothing. . .But you will be back soon?"

"Very soon."

"Before the end of the week?"

"I cannot say."

He was evidently trying to get away, whilst she was straining
every nerve to keep him back for a moment or two.

"Percy," she said, "will you not tell me why you go to-day?
Surely I, as your wife, have the right to know. You have NOT been
called away to the North. I know it. There were no letters, no
couriers from there before we left for the opera last night, and
nothing was waiting for you when we returned from the ball. . . . You
are NOT going to the North, I feel convinced. . . . There is some
mystery. . .and. . ."

"Nay, there is no mystery, Madame," he replied, with a slight
tone of impatience. "My business has to do with Armand. . .there!
Now, have I your leave to depart?"

"With Armand?. . .But you will run no danger?"

"Danger? I?. . .Nay, Madame, your solicitude does me honour.
As you say, I have some influence; my intention is to exert it before
it be too late."

"Will you allow me to thank you at least?"

"Nay, Madame," he said coldly, "there is no need for that. My
life is at your service, and I am already more than repaid."

"And mine will be at yours, Sir Percy, if you will but accept
it, in exchange for what you do for Armand," she said, as,
impulsively, she stretched out both her hands to him. "There! I will
not detain you. . .my thoughts go with you. . .Farewell!. . ."

How lovely she looked in this morning sunlight, with her
ardent hair streaming around her shoulders. He bowed very low and
kissed her hand; she felt the burning kiss and her heart thrilled with
joy and hope.

"You will come back?" she said tenderly.

"Very soon!" he replied, looking longingly into her blue eyes.

"Any. . .you will remember?. . ." she asked as her eyes, in
response to his look, gave him an infinity of promise.

"I will always remember, Madame, that you have honoured me by
commanding my services."

The words were cold and formal, but they did not chill her
this time. Her woman's heart had read his, beneath the impassive mask
his pride still forced him to wear.

He bowed to her again, then begged her leave to depart. She
stood on one side whilst he jumped on to Sultan's back, then, as he
galloped out of the gates, she waved him a final "Adieu."

A bend in the road soon hid him from view; his confidential
groom had some difficulty in keeping pace with him, for Sultan flew
along in response to his master's excited mood. Marguerite, with a sigh
that was almost a happy one, turned and went within. She went back to
her room, for suddenly, like a tired child, she felt quite sleepy.

Her heart seemed all at once to be in complete peace, and,
though it still ached with undefined longing, a vague and delicious
hope soothed it as with a balm.

She felt no longer anxious about Armand. The man who had just
ridden away, bent on helping her brother, inspired her with complete
confidence in his strength and in his power. She marvelled at herself
for having ever looked upon him as an inane fool; of course, THAT was
a mask worn to hide the bitter wound she had dealt to his faith and
to his love. His passion would have overmastered him, and he would
not let her see how much he still cared and how deeply he suffered.

But now all would be well: she would crush her own pride,
humble it before him, tell him everything, trust him in everything;
and those happy days would come back, when they used to wander off
together in the forests of Fontainebleau, when they spoke little--for
he was always a silent man--but when she felt that against that strong
heart she would always find rest and happiness.

The more she thought of the events of the past night, the less
fear had she of Chauvelin and his schemes. He had failed to discover
the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel, of that she felt sure. Both
Lord Fancourt and Chauvelin himself had assured her that no one had
been in the dining-room at one o'clock except the Frenchman himself
and Percy--Yes!--Percy! she might have asked him, had she thought of it!
Anyway, she had no fears that the unknown and brave hero would fall
in Chauvelin's trap; his death at any rate would not be at her door.

Armand certainly was still in danger, but Percy had pledged
his word that Armand would be safe, and somehow, as Marguerite had
seen him riding away, the possibility that he could fail in whatever
he undertook never even remotely crossed her mind. When Armand was
safely over in England she would not allow him to go back to France.

She felt almost happy now, and, drawing the curtains closely
together again to shut out the piercing sun, she went to bed at last,
laid her head upon the pillow, and, like a wearied child, soon fell
into a peaceful and dreamless sleep.

CHAPTER XVIII THE MYSTERIOUS DEVICE

The day was well advanced when Marguerite woke, refreshed by
her long sleep. Louise had brought her some fresh milk and a dish of
fruit, and she partook of this frugal breakfast with hearty appetite.

Thoughts crowded thick and fast in her mind as she munched her
grapes; most of them went galloping away after the tall, erect figure
of her husband, whom she had watched riding out of site more than five
hours ago.

In answer to her eager inquiries, Louise brought back the news
that the groom had come home with Sultan, having left Sir Percy in
London. The groom thought that his master was about to get on board
his schooner, which was lying off just below London Bridge. Sir Percy
had ridden thus far, had then met Briggs, the skipper of the DAY
DREAM, and had sent the groom back to Richmond with Sultan and the
empty saddle.

This news puzzled Marguerite more than ever. Where could Sir
Percy be going just now in the DAY DREAM? On Armand's behalf, he
had said. Well! Sir Percy had influential friends everywhere.
Perhaps he was going to Greenwich, or. . .but Marguerite ceased to
conjecture; all would be explained anon: he said that he would come
back, and that he would remember.
A long, idle day lay before Marguerite. She was expecting a
visit of her old school-fellow, little Suzanne de Tournay. With all
the merry mischief at her command, she had tendered her request for
Suzanne's company to the Comtesse in the Presence of the Prince of
Wales last night. His Royal Highness had loudly applauded the notion,
and declared that he would give himself the pleasure of calling on the
two ladies in the course of the afternoon. The Comtesse had not dared
to refuse, and then and there was entrapped into a promise to send
little Suzanne to spend a long and happy day at Richmond with her
friend.

Marguerite expected her eagerly; she longed for a chat about
old schooldays with the child; she felt that she would prefer
Suzanne's company to that of anyone else, and together they would roam
through the fine old garden and rich deer park, or stroll along the
river.

But Suzanne had not come yet, and Marguerite being dressed,
prepared to go downstairs. She looked quite a girl this morning in
her simple muslin frock, with a broad blue sash round her slim waist,
and the dainty cross-over fichu into which, at her bosom, she had
fastened a few late crimson roses.

She crossed the landing outside her own suite of apartments,
and stood still for a moment at the head of the fine oak staircase,
which led to the lower floor. On her left were her husband's
apartments, a suite of rooms which she practically never entered.

They consisted of bedroom, dressing and reception room, and at
the extreme end of the landing, of a small study, which, when Sir
Percy did not use it, was always kept locked. His own special and
confidential valet, Frank, had charge of this room. No one was ever
allowed to go inside. My lady had never cared to do so, and the other
servants, had, of course, not dared to break this hard-and-fast rule.

Marguerite had often, with that good-natured contempt which
she had recently adopted towards her husband, chaffed him about this
secrecy which surrounded his private study. Laughingly she had always
declared that he strictly excluded all prying eyes from his sanctum
for fear they should detect how very little "study" went on within its
four walls: a comfortable arm-chair for Sir Percy's sweet slumbers
was, no doubt, its most conspicuous piece of furniture.

Marguerite thought of all this on this bright October morning
as she glanced along the corridor. Frank was evidently busy with his
master's rooms, for most of the doors stood open, that of the study
amongst the others.

A sudden burning, childish curiosity seized her to have a peep
at Sir Percy's sanctum. This restriction, of course, did not apply to
her, and Frank would, of course, not dare to oppose her. Still, she
hoped that the valet would be busy in one of the other rooms, that she
might have that one quick peep in secret, and unmolested.

Gently, on tip-toe, she crossed the landing and, like Blue
Beard's wife, trembling half with excitement and wonder, she paused a
moment on the threshold, strangely perturbed and irresolute.

The door was ajar, and she could not see anything within. She
pushed it open tentatively: there was no sound: Frank was evidently
not there, and she walked boldly in.

At once she was struck by the severe simplicity of everything
around her: the dark and heavy hangings, the massive oak furniture,
the one or two maps on the wall, in no way recalled to her mind the
lazy man about town, the lover of race-courses, the dandified leader
of fashion, that was the outward representation of Sir Percy Blakeney.

There was no sign here, at any rate, of hurried departure.
Everything was in its place, not a scrap of paper littered the floor,
not a cupboard or drawer was left open. The curtains were drawn aside,
and through the open window the fresh morning air was streaming in.

Facing the window, and well into the centre of the room, stood
a ponderous business-like desk, which looked as if it had seen much
service. On the wall to the left of the desk, reaching almost from
floor to ceiling, was a large full-length portrait of a woman,
magnificently framed, exquisitely painted, and signed with the name of
Boucher. It was Percy's mother.

Marguerite knew very little about her, except that she had
died abroad, ailing in body as well as in mind, which Percy was still
a lad. She must have been a very beautiful woman once, when Boucher
painted her, and as Marguerite looked at the portrait, she could not
but be struck by the extraordinary resemblance which must have existed
between mother and son. There was the same low, square forehead,
crowned with thick, fair hair, smooth and heavy; the same deep-set,
somewhat lazy blue eyes beneath firmly marked, straight brows; and in
those eyes there was the same intensity behind that apparent laziness,
the same latent passion which used to light up Percy's face in the
olden days before his marriage, and which Marguerite had again noted,
last night at dawn, when she had come quite close to him, and had
allowed a note of tenderness to creep into her voice.

Marguerite studied the portrait, for it interested her: after
that she turned and looked again at the ponderous desk. It was
covered with a mass of papers, all neatly tied and docketed, which
looked like accounts and receipts arrayed with perfect method. It had
never before struck Marguerite--nor had she, alas! found it worth
while to inquire--as to how Sir Percy, whom all the world had credited
with a total lack of brains, administered the vast fortune which his
father had left him.

Since she had entered this neat, orderly room, she had been
taken so much by surprise, that this obvious proof of her husband's
strong business capacities did not cause her more than a passing
thought of wonder. But it also strengthened her in the now certain
knowledge that, with his worldly inanities, his foppish ways, and
foolish talk, he was not only wearing a mask, but was playing a
deliberate and studied part.

Marguerite wondered again. Why should he take all this trouble?
Why should he--who was obviously a serious, earnest man--wish to appear
before his fellow-men as an empty-headed nincompoop?

He may have wished to hide his love for a wife who held him in
contempt. . .but surely such an object could have been gained at less
sacrifice, and with far less trouble than constant incessant acting of
an unnatural part.

She looked round her quite aimlessly now: she was horribly
puzzled, and a nameless dread, before all this strange, unaccountable
mystery, had begun to seize upon her. She felt cold and uncomfortable
suddenly in this severe and dark room. There were no pictures on the
wall, save the fine Boucher portrait, only a couple of maps, both of
parts of France, one of the North coast and the other of the environs
of Paris. What did Sir Percy want with those, she wondered.

Her head began to ache, she turned away from this strange Blue
Beard's chamber, which she had entered, and which she did not understand.
She did not wish Frank to find her here, and with a fast look round,
she once more turned to the door. As she did so, her foot knocked
against a small object, which had apparently been lying close to the desk,
on the carpet, and which now went rolling, right across the room.

She stooped to pick it up. It was a solid gold ring, with a
flat shield, on which was engraved a small device.

Marguerite turned it over in her fingers, and then studied the
engraving on the shield. It represented a small star-shaped flower,
of a shape she had seen so distinctly twice before: once at the opera,
and once at Lord Grenville's ball.

CHAPTER XIX THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL

At what particular moment the strange doubt first crept into
Marguerite's mind, she could not herself have said. With the ring
tightly clutched in her hand, she had run out of the room, down the
stairs, and out into the garden, where, in complete seclusion, alone
with the flowers, and the river and the birds, she could look again at
the ring, and study that device more closely.

Stupidly, senselessly, now, sitting beneath the shade of an
overhanging sycamore, she was looking at the plain gold shield, with
the star-shaped little flower engraved upon it.

Bah! It was ridiculous! she was dreaming! her nerves were
overwrought, and she saw signs and mysteries in the most trivial
coincidences. Had not everybody about town recently made a point of
affecting the device of that mysterious and heroic Scarlet Pimpernel?

Did she herself wear it embroidered on her gowns? set in gems
and enamel in her hair? What was there strange in the fact that Sir
Percy should have chosen to use the device as a seal-ring? He might
easily have done that. . .yes. . .quite easily. . .and. . .
besides. . .what connection could there be between her exquisite dandy
of a husband, with his fine clothes and refined, lazy ways, and the
daring plotter who rescued French victims from beneath the very eyes
of the leaders of a bloodthirsty revolution?

Her thoughts were in a whirl--her mind a blank. . .She did not
see anything that was going on around her, and was quite startled when
a fresh young voice called to her across the garden.

"CHERIE!--CHERIE! where are you?" and little Suzanne,
fresh as a rosebud, with eyes dancing with glee, and brown curls
fluttering in the soft morning breeze, came running across the lawn.

"They told me you were in the garden," she went on prattling
merrily, and throwing herself with a pretty, girlish impulse into
Marguerite's arms, "so I ran out to give you a surprise. You did not
expect me quite so soon, did you, my darling little Margot CHERIE?"

Marguerite, who had hastily concealed the ring in the folds of
her kerchief, tried to respond gaily and unconcernedly to the young
girl's impulsiveness.

"Indeed, sweet one," she said with a smile, "it is delightful
to have you all to myself, and for a nice whole long day. . . . You
won't be bored?"

"Oh! bored! Margot, how CAN you say such a wicked thing.
Why! when we were in the dear old convent together, we were always
happy when we were allowed to be alone together."

"And to talk secrets."

The two young girls had linked their arms in one another's and
began wandering round the garden.

"Oh! how lovely your home is, Margot, darling," said little
Suzanne, enthusiastically, "and how happy you must be!"

"Aye, indeed! I ought to be happy--oughtn't I, sweet one?"
said Marguerite, with a wistful little sigh.

"How sadly you say it, CHERIE. . . . Ah, well, I suppose
now that you are a married woman you won't care to talk secrets with
me any longer. Oh! what lots and lots of secrets we used to have at
school! Do you remember?--some we did not even confide to Sister
Theresa of the Holy Angels--though she was such a dear."

"And now you have one all-important secret, eh, little one?"
said Marguerite, merrily, "which you are forthwith going to confide in
me. nay, you need not blush, CHERIE." she added, as she saw
Suzanne's pretty little face crimson with blushes. "Faith, there's
naught to be ashamed of! He is a noble and true man, and one to be
proud of as a lover, and. . .as a husband."
"Indeed, CHERIE, I am not ashamed," rejoined Suzanne,
softly; "and it makes me very, very proud to hear you speak so well of
him. I think maman will consent," she added thoughtfully, "and I
shall be--oh! so happy--but, of course, nothing is to be thought of
until papa is safe. . . ."

Marguerite started. Suzanne's father! the Comte de Tournay!--one
of those whose life would be jeopardised if Chauvelin succeeded
in establishing the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel.

She had understood all along from the Comtesse, and also from
one or two of the members of the league, that their mysterious leader
had pledged his honour to bring the fugitive Comte de Tournay safely
out of France. Whilst little Suzanne--unconscious of all--save her
own all-important little secret, went prattling on. Marguerite's
thoughts went back to the events of the past night.

Armand's peril, Chauvelin's threat, his cruel "Either--or--"
which she had accepted.

And then her own work in the matter, which should have
culminated at one o'clock in Lord Grenville's dining-room, when the
relentless agent of the French Government would finally learn who was
this mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel, who so openly defied an army of
spies and placed himself so boldly, and for mere sport, on the side of
the enemies of France.

Since then she had heard nothing from Chauvelin. She had
concluded that he had failed, and yet, she had not felt anxious about
Armand, because her husband had promised her that Armand would be safe.

But now, suddenly, as Suzanne prattled merrily along, an awful
horror came upon her for what she had done. Chauvelin had told her

Book of the day: